Friday, October 20, 2017

Gardy in Detroit

The word Thursday evening was that the Detroit Tigers had settled on Ron Gardenhire as their next manager, and the Boston Red Sox had settled on Alex Cora.

Neither deal was completely done, but assuming that nothing goes wrong in wrangling the contract details, Gardy will be back in the AL Central.

And good for him. I don't think Detroit is a particularly good fit for him, not that anybody is likely to win with the Tigers for a few years. It's an organization with an over-the-hill core and a weak farm system.

The good news is that ownership --with the passing of patriarch Mike Ilitch -- recognizes the necessity of rebuilding. The bad news is, they haven't much to rebuild with.

I don't view Gardenhire's strengths and weaknesses as a good fit for a rebuilding team. He was, throughout his tenure with the Twins, inclined to prefer proven players and impatient with youngsters. That was understandable when the Twins were contending, but during the last few seasons it was counterproductive. I don't know for sure that Oswaldo Arcia or Liam Hendricks would have turned into viable major league regulars with steadier opportunities; what I do know is that neither developed as hoped.

A team in the Tigers position, I think, would do better to go with a younger, even inexperienced, manager, one less beholden to his past.

I thought, and wrote, that Gardenhire's strengths fit well with the Red Sox. What he doesn't have, and the Sox may well have required, is a history of working with the advanced metrics in vogue today.

It's possible that the past season, spent working with Red Sox alum Torey Lovello with the Arizona Diamondbacks, taught Gardenhire what he was missing with his previous resistance to the new stats. Gardy's about the same age I am; I'd like to think that I'm capable still of growing. But I also know that it's harder for me to accept change.

Anyway, I don't jeer at this:




I also won't jeer at those who want to see the evidence.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Goodbye, Perkins (maybe)

Dept. of non-news news:




We certainly knew necessary formality was coming.

Perkins will officially be a free agent this winter, but according to Bollinger, the Minnesota native and resident will either retire or return to the Twins on a minor league deal.

As said here frequently, I will never criticize a player for trying to play too long. Perkins will turn 35 during spring training; he has the rest of his life to brew beer and fish and do all the other things he does in his non-baseball time, but his baseball time is use or lose. I doubt Perkins' rebuilt shoulder is up to the task of pitching in the majors, and I'm pretty sure he's not really interested in spending next summer in Rochester, New York. On the other hand, Jacque Jones spent the summer of 2010 doing just that in hopes of returning to the Show.

In my view of these things, it up to management to make the call. And management may not wish to make that call yet. A minor-league deal for Perkins would be a very low-risk flier.

What I would prefer -- and I view it as unlikely -- is Perkins with a role in the broadcasts, radio or television, the more prominent the better. A recent player who buys into the metrics and analytics and can explain to the audience how teams and players employ the wealth of new information flowing into the game? Yes, yes, yes a thousand times yes.




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A unique scouting hire

The Twins on Tuesday hired John Manuel, longtime editor of Baseball America, for their pro scouting staff.

As a Twins fan, this pleases and intrigues me. As a Baseball America subscriber, it saddens me. BA has a frequent staff churn, but Manuel has been there for 21 years.

The unique part of the hire isn't that the Twins hired a BA alum to scout; other organizations have done that. It's that they landed the biggest fish in the BA pool.

From Manuel's Facebook post on the change:

Last spring, the Wall Street Journal featured all the BA alumni who work for the Cleveland Indians, and Derek Falvey was the one who started that. Derek called me as a reference for Matt Forman back when he was hiring Matt as an intern in the Tribe’s baseball operations department. Derek and Matt went on to bring in more BA alums—five others so far—to Cleveland’s scouting department. So when Derek inquired to me about candidates to pro scout for the organization he now leads, the Twins, I couldn’t help myself.
I asked him, “What about me?”
I’d never asked that question to a member of a front office before. I’d talked about it with friends who are scouts or BA alums like Josh Boyd, Alan Matthews, Chris Kline or Matt Blood, but everyone in baseball knew I made the BA Kool-aid. My passion for the product and for my work has been obvious, over self-indulgent podcast tangents, or 2003 Rice stories during any random subsequent college baseball games, or any excuse to talk about the 2000 Olympics. 
But times change; ardor cools. It’s just not the same job anymore, not in the era of “branding.”

BA just had a pretty significant redesign and content retooling, some of which they've walked back at least a bit. I don't know if that's part of "it's just not the same job anymore." Or maybe Manuel just needed a changes.

But it's interesting that Manuel, who is as well connected as they come, picked the Twins (and Falvey) to pitch himself to. I suspect 30 teams would make room for him on their staff.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mauer and a Gold Glove

For some reason the subject of Joe Mauer and a possible Gold Glove award for him at first base kept popping up on my Twitter timeline Monday.

One ignornamus insisted that Craig Biggio won one of the big ugly trophies during his catching days and might have won one in the outfield. Not true. All four of Biggio's came at second base.

Reality: Only two players have won Gold Gloves at two different positions. Darrin Erstad at first base and outfield (for most of the award's history, the voters made no differentation between left, right and center. This is no longer the case.) and Placido Polanco, who won twice at second base with Detroit and once at third for the Phillies.

Biggio did begin his career as a catcher. He was the Astros regular behind the plate for three seasons and made an All-Star team. Then he shifted to second -- precisely BECAUSE he wasn't a Gold Glove-caliber catcher, and he was an All-Star caliber hitter.

The Astros wanted to keep his bat in the lineup and figured they could improve on Biggio's defense behind the dish. Had he been a high-quality defensive catcher, he probably would have remained a catcher.

Mauer was a legitmate Gold Glove catcher, and those types seldom change positions. Mauer moved because more is known about concussions than in decades past. Move his career forward a decade, and he probably doesn't move to first base -- and he might well have had more brain damage and had his career curtailed, as was the case with Mickey Cochrane, Mauer's closest historical comp.

Should Mauer win the Gold Glove? That is the conventional wisdom in Twins Territory, in large part because Dick Bremer and Co. started beating that drum by midseason. For what it's worth, John Dewan of Baseball Info Systems says Mitch Moreland of the Boston Red Sox had the most runs saved among American League first basemen.

I'd like to see Mauer win it, not because the award changes anything about him but because it would be a little bit more on his side when his Hall of Fame credentials are up for debate. I've said this before, repeatedly: He's done the heavy lifting for Cooperstown.


Monday, October 16, 2017

On Duensing and the Cubs bullpen

Joe Maddon, the manager of the defending champs, is taking some criticism in the wake of Sunday's game, which was decided without the participation of Wade Davis, the Cubs' best reliever and closer (the two concepts are not identical). #OldFriend Brian Duensing opened the bottom of the ninth for the Cubbies, and John Lackey ended it with a gopher ball. Duensing took the loss.

Maddon, postgame, on Davis:

“He had limited pitches. It was one inning only, and in these circumstances you don’t get him up and then don’t get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched. That’s it.”

I buy that. Davis threw 45 pitches in that bizarre Game 5 to beat the Nationals. He hasn't worked that deep in years, probably since the Royals gave up trying to make him a starter. I'm sure Maddon's preference was not to use him at all.




Maddon appears to be managing the Cubs as if they don't have a lockdown bullpen right now, even though a number of relievers had strong seasons.

Duensing was one of those. Not just a 2.74 ERA. but 61 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. He coughed up only one lead for the Cubs. He didn't have a big platoon split; in fact, he held righties to a lower slugging percentage. A nice season for the former Twin.

The Cubs pitching staff is based on its solid rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Kendricks, Jose Quintana). But Maddon, by choice or circumstances, is getting just five innings or so a game out of these guys. Which means the bullpen has to pick up the rest, and he rode Davis really hard against the Nationals. He went through three of his middle bullpen guys Sunday (Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop and Duensing) before turning to fifth-starter Lackey.

The decisions Maddon made in previous games led to the decsions he made Sunday. He couldn't go deep with Lester because he was on short rest after pitching 3.2 innings in relief Thursday. Davis's availability was limited. He hasn't gotten a quality start since Game Two against the Nationals, and the bullpen coughed that one away.

Maybe today's offday will straighten things out. Seven or eight innings from Tuesday's starter would help more.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pic of the Week

Cody Bellinger takes a tumble into the Dodgers dugout
in pursuit of a pop foul Monday.
Given Bellinger's importance to the Dodgers, I'm surprised there's nobody there to catch him. It's not like he's going into the opponent's dugout.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Brandon Kintzler, free agent

Brandon Kinzler
pitched in three
games in the NLDS
with an ERA of
5.40.
I suggested Thursday in my final KMSU segment of the season that the Twins might focus more on building their bullpen depth this winter than on the starting rotation.

That thought might have been overly influenced by the bullpen-crazy postseason so far, but there is, or should be, little doubt that a lot of the teams playing in October were capable of smothering the opposition with waves of quality relievers -- Indians, Yankees, post-deadline Nats, Rockies.

The Twins were never in that position. Paul Molitor spent pretty much the entire season with three relievers he trusted and four he didn't -- and the identity of the ones he trusted shifted frequently.

Molitor trusted Brandon Kintzler right up to when Kintzler was traded at the deadline. And with the Washington Nationals eliminated, Kintzler becomes a free agent.

Dusty Baker handled Kintzler more roughly than Molitor did. Kintzler made 45 appearances for the Twins in four months, mostly to protect leads at the end of games. Kintzler made 27 appearances for the Nationals in two months, mostly in the seventh and eighth innings. He had 10 holds and one save -- and two blown saves -- for Baker.

The ERA was more than a half-run higher in Washington, but the underlying stats weren't a lot different. He was essentially the same pitcher, just used differently. Low strikeout rate, lower walk rate, challenge the hitters to do something with well-located pitches with movement.

Kintzler turned 33 on Aug. 1, so he's no youngster. The analytics don't like his strikeout rate. Bur I will wager Molitor would like him back, and the price is unlikely to be a deterrent. There may not be another organization that would seriously view Kintzler as a closer candidate.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine would be justified in wondering: If we sign Kintzler, will his presence discourage Molitor from using a higher-ceiling pitcher? Probably, if we're only concerned about the closer role. But the 2017 Twins were short all season on reliable relief arms. Kintzler may be low ceiling, but he's also high floor. Ninth inning or seventh inning, he can help.


Friday, October 13, 2017

A great and terrible game

I was really. really hoping by the end of Thursday night's Game Five of the Nationals-Cubs NLDS that both teams would run out of pitchers.

The Cubbies survived, unfortunately. I had hoped that this year, the year of the superteams, the fival four would be the three 100-game winners and a 97-win ensemble. Instead the Yankees and Cubs, neither of which had a regular season nearly as successful as the teams they edged out, advanced.

So it goes. This playoff system devalues the regular season. That's no secret, and it's been my major complaint about the wild card for more than two decades. But this system what we have, and it produces some baseball that is both compelling and unwatchable.

Thursday was both. At one point in the fifth-inning rally in which the Cubs took the lead they had the four-batter sequence of intentional walk, strikeout-passed ball, catcher interference and hit-by-pitch. (The second play of that sequence, in my estimation, was a blown call by the umpires, who misinterpreted Rule 6.03. That says an unintentional backswing that hits the catcher is a dead call and a strike. Jerry Layne and company allowed play to continue and stand.) From Baseball Reference:




The bizarrity -- if that's a word, and it should be -- goes on. Jayson Werth lost a ball in the lights; that cost the Nats a run. Willson Contreras, the Cubs catcher, twice whiffed completely on pitches that nailed Layne, which is a hell of a thank-you for the biffed call. Then he picked off Washington's Jose Lobaton on one of those confounded sliders-foot-off-the-bag-for-a-millisecond replay reversals that should be a firing offense for whoever's in New York.

And four hours and 37 minutes of pitching changes and committee meetings. That is October baseball in the era of Girardi and Maddon, and I hate it. I know this one was in Washington, but leave the filibusters to the Senate and play some ball. I expect there will be limits placed on catchers visiting the mound next year, and hooray for that. It has become abusive.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ron Gardenhire and the Red Sox job

The Boston Red Sox announced early Wednesday morning that John Farrell was out as manager. Within hours, Ron Gardenhire was linked to the opening.

Unlike the Detroit job, Boston appears a good fit for Gardenhire. 

Gardenhire prefers established players and set lineups. In my estimation, his weakest point as a manager is his (in)ability to accurately judge the current skill set of a player. The Red Sox currently boasts eight regulars and a catching platoon. Gardy is not adept at lineup juggling; this team doesn't need that. They don't figure to have spring training position battles to judge. 

The Saux have several big-name starters in their rotation and a stellar closer, but have had some issues of late in the middle of their bullpen. In my estimation, Gardenhire's greatest strength as a manager is handling the pen. The list of relievers who pitched better for Gardenhire than for anybody else is long, starting with Eddie Guardado, J.C. Romero and (to a lesser extent) LaTroy Hawkins through Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon and Dennys Reyes to Glen Perkins and Jared Burton.

I don't know that he's going to get the job. But it would make sense.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bringing Molitor back, the conclusion

Paul Molitor and Derek Falvey dismissed on Tuesday the theory that the delay between the invitation for Molitor to continue as manager and his acceptance signaled some sort of rift or friction betweem the manager and the front office.

Even dismissing Neil Allen as pitching coach was not close to a deal breaker, as Molitor described it.

Speculation and interpretation aside, the result is obvious: Molitor has a three-year extension and the rest of the coaching staff is expected back, although some roles may shift.

I wish Allen well, not only in terms of landing a new job somewhere but in terms of maintaining his sobriety. I suspect there are organizations that would have dumped Allen after his drunk-driving arrest in May 2016, and I further suspect Allen knows it:

“I had a wonderful conversation with Mollie,” Allen said in a phone interview. “I pointed out I can never thank (former GM) Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor enough for what they did for me. Mollie and I talked every day. We had a routine. We got to know each other very well. I absolutely loved the man. I made a great friend.”
That from Mike Berardino's story in the Pioneer Press.

Meanwhile, the reshaping of the organization continued, with the Twins hiring a new farm director. Jeremy Zoll comes out of the Dodger organization. He's 27 and succeeds Brad Steil, who becomes the pro scouting director.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Molitor stays, Allen departs

Neil Allen will
not return as
pitching coach.
The Twins announced Monday that Paul Molitor had accepted a three-year extension as manager. Also Monday, pitching coach Neil Allen told reporters that he had been fired.

I can imagine that Derek Falvey relented on salary and/or contract length for Molitor but not on replacing Allen. Remember, Falvey's area of proported expertise at Cleveland was developing pitchers, and he now has opened up probably the two most important positions in the organization in that field, major league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator.




Reusse has a point about the raw material Allen had to work with. Coaching goes only so far. Talent matters, and the Twins ran out a number of pitchers who really have no business on a major league roster in this high velocity era. (Of the 36, 14 had worse Fielding Independent Pitching ratings than catcher and blow-out specialist Chris Gimenez.)

My sense, which may be mistaken, the past three years was that Allen was overly determined to make every pitcher work his way. I remember hearing an in-game interview with Allen during spring training in which he made a sarcastic wisecrack about Kyle Gibson reworking his mechanics and routine over the offseason. I don't know what worked for Gibson and what didn't, what he kept and what he jettisoned, but I know that:


  • what Gibson had been doing didn't work for him physically or on the field in 2016;
  • he had a strong August and September this year; and
  • Falvey's former organization seems quite open to individual experimentation with programs, with Trevor Bauer being an obvious example.


The improvement in the Twins in run prevention this year can be attributed not to the pitching or even the emergence of Jose Berrios, but to the improved defense (and even the improved team defensive metrics appear to be almost entirely Byron Buxton in center).

Mike Berardino listed several in-house possibilities for Allen's former post, but I expect Falvey to reach outside the organization. One interesting question is how much input Molitor will have on the selection.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Molitor watch, Day Four

Paul Molitor, whose status remained unresolved through the weekend, is not the only postseason manager on an expiring contract.

Others in the same position: Dusty Baker of the Washington Nationals and Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees.

Presumably Molitor and the Twins front office will come to an agreement today or Tuesday. But the mere fact that Baker has the Nats job is evidence that an agreement in principle can run aground on the details. Three years ago Bud Black was supposed to be the Nats' manager, but he wanted more money than the team wanted to pay.

Baker apparently wasn't thrilled with the salary either, but he probably figured this was his last best chance to manage again. Black eventually landed the Colorado job (and made the playoffs this year as well).

I devoted the Monday print column to the Molitor standoff. I'd rather have him return, but there's plenty of reason to suspect that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine want to at least keep their options open for replacing him.

Girardi may have to at least win the ALDS to keep his job in New York, especially considering the roasting he's taken over Game Two of that series and specifically for his failure to challenge what proved to be a pivotal HBP call. It's startling to me to realize that he's had the Yankees job for 10 seasons with "only" one World Series title on his managerial resume.

Speaking of the managerial carousel, a couple of #OldFriends are said to be prominent candidates for the Detroit Tigers job: Ron Gardenhire and Mike Redmond.

The Tigers have no shortage of candidates and I wouldn't declare either to be the favorite, but I


  • doubt that anybody is going to win there for a few years and
  • would not be inclined to hire Gardenhire for a rebuilding project.


There are probably teams and situations in which Gardenhire would thrive: specifically, a veteran team with minimal need for the manager to decide who should play.

Gardenhire might be a better fit for the 2018 Yankees than Girardi would be -- but Gardy might not have been a good fit for the 2017 Yankees, who came into the season unsure if Aaron Judge should even be on the roster or if Luis Severino should be in the rotation. But even if Girardi is axed, I suspect the Yankees will go for a manager more obviously analytically inclined.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Pic of the Week

David Robertson, Yankees relief pitcher, reacts
on behalf of all men as catcher Gary Sanchez
takes a foul tip to the vulnerable spot.

Sympathy personified. Not exactly the way players typically react to somebody else getting hit there. When it's somebody else getting a "cup check." it's funny.

Adrian Beltre, the Cooperstown-bound third baseman, apparently disdains wearing a protective cup. Some years ago, when he was with the Seattle Mariners, he took a smash there and wound up on the disabled list with a crushed testicle that reportedly swelled to the size of a grapefruit.

When he returned to action weeks later, his walkup music for his first at-bat -- selected by Junior Griffey -- was "The Nutcracker Suite."

(The word is, Beltre still won't wear a cup.)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Bringing back Molitor, a continuing saga

On Thursday night, there were reports that the Twins would have an official announcement on Paul Molitor's new contract on Friday.

There wasn't. The word Friday was that this won't be resolved until next week.

Evaluating this from the outside:

* The public pressure is on the Twins. Brian Dozier has been quoted: "One hundred percent, I speak for everybody else in here, we hope he’s back.” The metro columnists are, predictably, in favor of retaining him. To the extent that Molitor has leverage in these negotiations, it's the vocal player and media support for him.

* Other leverage is with the front office.

It is entirely reasonable to believe that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in July expected to dismiss Molitor at seasons end and that they had specific candidates in mind. (Two names from Cleveland, Falvey's former organization, have been linked to the job already: Micky Callaway and Sandy Alomar Jr., the latter of whom was among the candidates Molitor beat out three winters ago.) I doubt they are particularly worried about running these talks aground. In a sense, the worst that can happen is that they wind up with the manager they expected three months ago.

At the very least, if Molitor returns -- and I expect he will -- it will be on Falvine's terms, not Molitor's.

The Dozier quote, I'll take with a grain of salt. The idea that any manager is universally beloved in his clubhouse is somewhere short of credible. Casey Stengel supposedly said of managing that on any team, Five guys love you, five hate you and the rest are undecided. The secret of managing is to keep the five who hate you away from the 15 who haven't made up their minds.

We can assume Dozier is in the "love him" camp.

As for the metro columnist support, I've developed a rather deep contempt for their collective baseball wisdom. If Jim Souhan says the sun is shining, carry your umbrella.

As for my position: Tune in to the Monday print column.



Friday, October 6, 2017

Bringing back Molitor

Two beat writers, two tweets:








The Strib tweet is more defenitive, but the Neal story -- like Berardino's -- notes that there were unresolved details Thursday night.

Managerial agreements have been known to derail over salary, coaching staff and authority, and  the second may be in play here:




If Falvine is demanding a coaching staff change with Molitor resisting, my guess is that the tug-of-war involves pitching coach Neil Allen. Derek Falvey played a particular role in Cleveland in their pitching development process, and he is soon to be free to raid his old organization (the agreement to let him come to Minnesota included a one-year ban on the Twins hiring Cleveland personnel). I would be astounded if he didn't raid that organization for a pitching guru or two or three.

The Twins have created openings in their minor league system by dismissing minor league pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen, and one report suggests they will split that role into two positions, one for the high minors (Double and Triple A) and one for low minors/rehab. So even if Allen is kept on, there are ways for Falvey to cross pollinate the Twins system with Cleveland's.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bullpen as a verb

No starter in either wild card game got to the fifth inning. That wasn't by design; each of the four teams started their ace, and two of the four (Luis Severino of the Yankees and Zach Greinke of the Diamondbacks) figure to get some downballot votes for Cy Young. It was, simply, that nobody had a good start.

But short starts will be the rule this October, and there may well be a game somewhere down the line in which a manager deliberately follows some semblance of Brian Kenny's suggested Yankees pitching lineup for the wild card game. The MLB Network host suggested two innings of Chad Green, two innings of Sonny Gray, then one inning apiece from five relievers. As it turned out, the Yankees got even fewer outs from a starter than Kenny envisioned.

This approach has been dubbed "bullpenning." It happens occasionally in the regular season, when a managers short of pitchers resorts to a "bullpen game," but it's deemed unsustainable over the course of the season. October, with more days off, chillier conditions and more pressure, is another matter.

But we certainly are seeing the game evolve in the short start direction.

Chris Sale of Boston -- he'll start the ALDS opener this afternoon against Houston -- led the majors in innings pitched at 214.1. With the exception of the two major strike seasons, 1981 and 1994, this is the lowest total to lead baseball. We've seen only two league leaders top 250 innings since 2004.

This is partly, but only partly, from a growing adherence to the five-man rotation. The conventional four-day rotation of the 1960s and 1970s -- in which a fifth starter was only used for double headers and the fourth starter skipped when the schedule included a convenient offday -- gave way to a five day rotation, with the fifth starter skipped when possible. In the past decade or so it has evolved to a more rigid five-man rotation, with even the aces pushed back a day for offdays.

That takes a handful of starts away from the best pitchers. But they also work less deeply into games each outing. Ervin Santana was second in the majors in innings (211.1), and only two men made more starts (33). Santana averaged 6.4 innings a start. For a fan who saw 300-inning seasons routinely in his youth, that seems light.

Here's the thing: The game evolves, by and large, in the direction of what works. Today's pitchers are facing lineups capable of hitting long balls one through nine. Jim Palmer and Bert Blyleven didn't. Today's pitchers are expected to work at higher velocities, and it's easier to sustain 95 mph and higher for a handful of innings than for eight or nine, and easier to get there once a week than twice a week.

Easier, not easy.

My personal preference is for longer starts and fewer pitching changes, particularly in-inning changes. The game is going in a different direction. I could rant about that, but it would be like ranting at the Mississippi for flowing south.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

And so it ends

There was an obvious path to victory Tuesday for the Twins: get an early lead and have Ervin Santana, their best starting pitcher, have one of his good games.

The hitters did their part, more or less. They plated three runs in the first and drove Yankees starter and ace Luis Severino from the game six batters in. But they left a couple ducks on the pond in that inning, and they didn't cash in enough in the third, and after that the Yankees bullpen gave them nothing.

And Santana was far from having one of his good games.

So be it. The 2017 Twins were far from championship quality. It took a watered-down format to get them into the October tournament. I can root for them and be disappointed in Tuesday's outcome and still recognize that reality.

I think it was the FiveThirtyEight website that called this the most loaded playoff field ever. Three teams -- Cleveland and Houston in the American League and Los Angeles in the National -- won at least 100 games, and Washington won 97. Three more teams won at least 92. Colorado and the Twins don't really fit in this field.

The 2017 season was still a good one for the Twins organization. They went from 59 wins to 85, from the worst record in baseball to the final postseason berth. That is a genuine accomplishment.

But if 100 wins (and not 95) is a genuine new standard for quality, the Twins are 15 short of that. And it will be more difficult to add those 15 than it was to add this year's 26.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A storm cloud on the horizon

While Twins fans were focused on today's wild-card game against the Yankees, a major big-picture story erupted in Atlanta, where general manager John Coppolella and a top subordinate resigned.

The immediate word was that MLB had found serious rules violations by the Braves in the international free agent market. But the MLB investigation also reportedly found violations beyond the cesspool of the international market, including the domestic draft.

Coppolella headed the Braves organization for two years and a day, and in that time had laregly rebuilt the Braves farm system into a powerhouse. The system is currently ranked either first or second (with the White Sox) by pretty much every outside evaluation.

Here's the thing: Rule bending, even cheating, is standard operating procedure for signing Dominican players. The specific violations by Coppolella and Gordon Blakesley, special assistant for international scouting, haven't been detailed for public consumption, but presuambly they must have been significant to cost them their jobs. Either that, or everybody is at risk.

John Hart, veteran GM who came out of retirement Monday to fill Coppolella's job on an interim basis, said at a press conference that the violations don't involve criminal activity. (A few years ago a White Sox exec went to federal prison in a kickback scheme involving Dominican prospects.)

But it seems very likely that there will be further repercussions against the Braves. Perhaps some signings will be invalidated. Perhaps they will lose draft picks or bonus pool money. Coppolella and Blakesley are probably no longer employable.

And this will affect the Braves, certainly, but everybody else as well. The message is that there's a red line out there, and organizations cross it at their peril -- but its location is uncertain.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sano or Sa-yes? Some wild card roster speculation

The second half of the Monday print column speculated that Miguel Sano would be the designated hitter on Tuesday in Yankee Stadium and doubted that would be the best decision.

That was written before Sunday's game, in which:




Sano went 1-for-8 in the Detroit series and never got a ball off the ground.

My current guess is that he will be on the 25-man roster for that game but that Robbie Grossman will start at DH.  The reason to have him on the roster: As a pinch-hit threat against the left-handed gas of Aroldis Chapman. But that's just a guess.

---

Gabriel Moya got the save Sunday with five outs of hitless relief.

Dick Bremer on Sunday cast doubt on the idea that Moya might be on the playoff roster, citing the two homers he's allowed his seven appearances.

I'm not sure he's even eligible, as he wasn't on the 40-man roster Sept. 1 (although he was in the organization). But I do know I'd rather see Moya get the ball as a LOOGY on Tuesday than Buddy Boshers.

---

There's no way Bartolo Colon will be active for the Wild Card game after going 6.1 innings Sunday. I wouldn't have Kyle Gibson, who had a short start Friday, active either, although he's a plausible reliever on three days rest. I'd just save him for the ALDS Game One start. If that start doesn't happen, so be it. I doubt the WC game will be determined by Gibson's availablity.

The Twins gave Jose Berrios a bullpen test drive Friday, and there's reasonable speculation that Paul Molitor's bullpen blueprint for that one-and-done game is: Six innings from Ervin Santana, one from Berrios, one from Trevor Hildenberger and one from Matt Belisle. That plan, if it is the plan, leaves Taylor Rogers available for LOOGY duties.




Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pic of the Week

David Price reacts after striking out George Springer to
escape a bases-laded jam in the seventh inning Saturday.

I was hoping, as a Twins fan, that the Astros would win that game Saturday, and beat the Red Sox again today, and that the Yankees would further cooperate by winning their games in Toronto. That would have forced those teams into a Game 163 to decide which was the division champ and which would play the Twins in the wild-card game Tuesday.

That, I figured, would stretch out the pitching staffs of either team and give the Twins some slight advantage.

Didn't happen. The Red Sox won, and thus clinched the AL East.

Price -- who has had a controversial season in Boston, complete with a long stint on the disabled list and an altercation with team broadcaster Dennis Eckersley -- is going to be working out of the Boston bullpen this month. The hope (or expectation) is that he can do for the Sawx what Andrew Miller did last year for Cleveland -- relieve early or late and overwhelm opposing hitters in key moments.

It worked Saturday.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Miguel Sano, Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman and the postseason roster

One thing we learned from Torii Hunter's occasional forays into the broadcast booth is that he calls Eduardo Escobar "Mighty Mouse."

Escobar helped save the day Friday night with a home run. He helped save the season with 21 homers, which is power output nobody expected when the Twins got him from the White Sox in exchange for Francisco Liriano in 2012.

Fifteen of those 21 homers have come while playing third base, which is supposed to be the property of Miguel Sano. (Three have come when at short, and three as the designated hitter.) Sano has had two lengthy stints on the disabled list, and Escobar has gotten the heavy majority of his playing time at third as a result.

Sano has hit 28 homers, 23 of them at third. So the Twins have gotten 38 homers from their third basemen, which basically sounds like Sano got a full season in there.

But only in terms of the power. Sano draws walks and Escobar does not. While their batting averages are similar, the Dominican has a far superior OBP to the Venezulean. Give credit to Escobar for producing in Sano's absence, but know that Sano is the more productive hitter.

Sano returned to the active roster Friday and got an at-bat late in the game, grounding out meekly to the pitcher. He's expected to get at least one start as the designated hitter in these final two games as he tries to wrangle his way onto the playoff roster.

If he does, he's not going to step back in at third base; there's no indication that his leg is ready to play the field. If Sano is in the lineup, it will be as the designated hitter.

So Escobar's status as the third baseman seems secure as the wild card game approaches. The guy who might lose out is Robbie Grossman, who has himself been strictly a DH since returning from his thumb injury.

Grossman has nine homers on the season with a slash line of .248/.364/.383. He's sort of the reverse image of Escobar -- big on walks, light on the power. (His September slugging percentage, .484, has been sharply higher.) Fourteen Twin have more than 100 plate appearances; only Joe Mauer has a better on-base percentage than Grossman.

Don't underestimate the importance of the ability to reach base. Escobar's big flies are valuable and startling. Grossman's walks are mundane -- but just as valuable.

But the choice really isn't between Grossman and Escobar. It's between Grossman and Sano, and the real question is, is Sano ready to hit against playoff caliber pitching?

A secondary question might be: Is Grossman able to play outfield? He hasn't in weeks. And if he can't, is there room on the playoff roster for two bat-only "position players"?

The Twins have a few days to draw their conclusions and make their decisions. At thp point, I'm skeptical of Sano's return.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Three reasons the Angels lost out on the playoffs

The geography-challenged "Los Angeles" Angels (they apparently dropped the "of Anaheim" from their official name this season) missed out on the playoffs this year. Again. A decade ago, much like the Twins of the same period, they were pretty much an annual fixture, but they've reached the tournament once in the previous seven seasons, and this makes it eight.

Three specific reasons the Angels failed to surpass the Twins:

* Mike Trout, aka the Best Player in Baseball, missed more than six weeks with an injury. His absence included both series against the Twins.

Trout played 159 games each of the previous two seasons, and he's at 111 entering the final weekend. Let's say the injury cost him 45 games, which probably isn't precicely accurate but serves our purposes.

Baseball Reference credits Trout with 6.2 WAR: roughly 0.056 Wins Above Replacment per game. Multiply the missing 45 games by that rate, and we get about 2.5 WAR lost to the injury.

We'll be conservative and round it down: The Angels lost, by this estimate, two wins because of Trout's absence.

* Ricky Nolasco.

The starting rotation had a high attrition rate. Three men who combined for 31 starts (J.C. Ramirez, Matt Shoemaker and former Twins prospect Alex Meyer) are currently on the 60-day disabled list, and Garrett Richards -- expected to be their top starter -- was limited to six starts.

Few rotations make it through the season unscathed, of course. But the one member of the rotation who made it through the entire season was another former Twin, Ricky Nolasco. And he was terrible.




BR has Nolasco's WAR at 0.7, which means he's still marginally better than the "free" talent available at Triple A. So we won't go overboard in this What-If experiment in which Nolasco doesn't pitch for the Angels.

Imagine that they went 12-20 in those starts, just two games improvement. Coupled with a healthy Trout, they've gained four games on the Twins

* Albert Pujols.

Pujols is, as mentioned a few times this season, an flash point in the still-festering split between old-school and new-school stats.

Old school: Pujols has 100 RBIs! He's a run producer!

New school: Pujols's WAR is -1.7. He's limited to DH, his OPS+ is 18 percent below league average, he leads the majors in grounding into double plays. He is the worst regular in baseball.

No surprise: I side with the new school thinkers on this. Once a week or so Phat Albert will run into a pitch (23 homers). And he did hit better with men in scoring position than without.

But the gaudy RBI count is largely a product of spending the entire season hitting third or fourth and behind Trout when Trout was in the lineup. He gets that prime lineup real estate because he's ALBERT PUJOLS, arguably the greatest first baseman in major league history, and he's getting paid $24 million a year.

And the contract has four more seasons to run.

Anyway: Let's be conservative again and say that Pujols only cost the Angels one win. This brings my total to five games. Remember: We've rounded down on Trout and Pujols and didn't get aggressive in dumping Nolasco.

That is exactly the margin by which the Twins lead the Angels this morning.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Magic number: Zero

Party time in Cleveland, where the Twins celebrated early
Thursday morning after the Angels were eliminated.
The 2017 Minnesota Twins are the first team to go from 100 losses to the postseason in one year.

That's less impressive than it sounds, because it took expanding the playoff field to one-third of MLB teams -- 10 of the 30. The Twins will almost certainly have the worst record of the 10.

Still, the improvement is genuinely worthy of celebration. Most of the roster is the same as the 103-loss squad of 2016. It's a long season, the front office went into sell mode at the trading deadline in July, and they got into the playoffs anyway.

The day may come when this core can shrug aboiut a wild card berth. I hope so. This is not that day.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Contemplating Bartolo Colon

Whether because Bartolo Colon was ill (the official explanation) or ineffective (mine), "Big Sexy" got just three outs Tuesday.

Colon has now made 14 starts for the Twins. He has worked 73.2 innings and allowed 45 earned runs, a 5.50 ERA. More alarmingly, he has allowed 18 runs in his last 12 innings, spread over four starts.

Maybe he will start the season finale; with the magic number to clinch the second wildcard spot now at 1, that game doesn't figure to matter. But I can't imagine that anybody has much confidence in Colon right now.

At the start of the month, Colon figured to be the Twins third starter should they get that deep into the playoffs, and it was entirely plausible that the Twins would bring him back for 2018. Today it seems more likely that he just made his final appearance on a major league mound.

If so, it was one impressive career.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Passed balls, wild pitches and pitch framing

If you don't have a catcher, you have a lot of passed balls.
Casey Stengel

The one position at which the 2017 Twins are truly different than in 2016 is catcher. The new front office got rid of all three of 2016's backstops. And with the Twins on the verge of becoming the first team to go from 100-plus losses to the playoffs, I thought it worth looking at the difference.

Last year's backstops were Kurt SuzukiJuan Centeno and John Ryan Murphy. They caught every inning in 2016.

Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez have done the bulk of the 2017 catching, with Mitch Garver getting a handful of starts behind the plate so far and Eduardo Escobar picking up one inning.

The new front office was explict about seeking to improve "pitch framing" in particular and, presumably, defense in general and was willing to sacrifice some hitting to accomplish that.

Last year I commented, either here or in the Monday print column, with some frequency on the number of passed balls and wild pitches the Twins were giving up. The 2016 Twins allowed 83 wild pitches and nine passed balls: 92 in 1,443 innings, or 0.57 per nine innings. In essence, the Twins last year gave up one (or more) bases every other game.

This year, Gimenez alone has been charged with 10 passed balls. But the wild pitchers have dropped from 83 to 51. and the total (WP plus PB) is down to 66, a rate of 0.42 per nine innings.

What to make of this?

The difference between a passed ball and a wild pitch is artificial, a binary parsing of blame between pitcher and catcher. A pitch is uncaught, a runner (or runners) advance(s), and one individual is blamed by the official scorer for the event. Some wild pitches are truly the pitcher's fault; some come because the catcher failed to block a pitch that was exactly what the pitcher intended to throw (a slider in the dirt with two strikes, for example). Meanwhile, the catcher who leads the league in passed balls is almost always the guy who catches the most knuckleballs. (That's not the case this year.)

This is why I tend to combine WP and BP. I'm interested in the result less than the blame.

That said, the artifical difference in this case may be illuminating. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted when the Twins signed Castro that, while his pitch framing stats were very impressive, his passed balls were relatively high.

What may be going on, particularly for Gimenez: The perfect can become the enemy of the good. In attempting to perfectly receive a marginal pitch -- that is, catching it with a still glove at the edge of the strike zone -- the catcher miscalcuates and misses the pitch entirely. It's a trade off, and presumably the Twins are willing to accept a few more passed balls for more called strikes.

Castro and Gimenez have hit about as well (or poorly) as we should have expected. They have also been what was expected behind the plate as well -- a defensive upgrade from Suzuki and Centero.

Suzuki, who was the Twins' regular catcher for three seasons, re-signed with the Atlanta Braves for 2018 last week. He's had a rather impressive season as a half-time catcher in Atlanta, popping 18 homers in less than 300 plate appearances (he tallied 16 total with the Twins).

And good for him. I doubt the Twins regret the change on their end.


Monday, September 25, 2017

After the hurricanes

A little "real news" with our baseball:

* Neither the Twins nor Red Sox, both of whom have their spring training/minor league facilities just outside Fort Myers, will hold formal instructional league this year. Both facilities are still being used as staging areas for storm relief after Hurricane Irma.

As of Sunday, there were still more than 1,000 customers in Lee County without electrical power some two weeks after the storm.

* The Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino talked with Kennys Vargas, one of four Twins who played on the Puerto Rican team in this spring's WBC (and doesn't that feel like a long time ago?), about Hurricane Maria. Vargas doesn't believe the Twins' scheduled games with the Cleveland Indians for San Juan next April will be played there:

“It will be canceled, I think,” Vargas said. “I would say there won’t be baseball in Puerto Rico for one or two years. Not even winter ball. The stadium got destroyed. The community can’t worry about baseball now. It has to take care of everybody. They have to fix people’s lives first.”

---

The Twins magic number for wild card No. 2 is three. But their next three games are against Cleveland, which doesn't lose very often any more, while the Angels play the lowly White Sox. There may not be a lot of trimming of the magic number before the weekend.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pic of the Week

Andrelton Simmons makes a barehanded catch of
a popup after bobbling it Wednesday.

There are few, if any, shortstops who can match Andrelton Simmons in the field. And that's saying something.

Simmons figures to draw some MVP support this year. He is, as Baseball Reference figures WAR, the fourth best player in the American League. A lot of that value is in his glove, of course, but he's also having his best season at the plate.

But this is truly a golden age of shortstops. Twenty years ago we had Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra all breaking in more or less simultaneously. Today we have an even bigger wave of young star shortstops: Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Xander Bograrts, Trea Turner, Addison Russell -- all 24 or younger. More than a third of teams (including the Twins with Jorge Polanco) have a regular at the position younger than 25.

Simmons is 28 now. That makes him something of an old man in this crowd.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Contemplating Miguel Cabrera

Dan Gladden, it was obvious Friday, has not yet recognized the new reality with Miguel Cabrera: "Miggy" is no longer the overwhelming hitter he once was.

Cabrera's slash line after 0 for 4 Friday was an underwhelming .248/.328/.397. Coupled with his subpar defense at first base, and you have a player who is barely better than replacement, at least by Baseball Reference' version of WAR.

Gladden seems to think that the 34-year-old Cabrera is still MIGUEL CABRERA. He's not. Same person, with sharply diminished skills.

The "fun" part for the rebuilding Tigers is that this was the first year of an eight-year contract extension. Unless the big guy finds a way to reverse the ravages of age -- I wouldn't count on it -- the Tigers have seven more years of this ahead of them.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Adalberto Mejia vs. Bartolo Colon




"Great start"? When did 4.2 innings become a great start?

Mejia's line score is pretty good other than just getting 14 outs. But he committed a balk and got the hook after -- yet again -- not getting to first base in time on a ground ball.

I have never seen a major league pitcher have as much difficulty covering first base as Mejia, and I don't think it's simply a chronic brain cramp. He's big and slow, and he falls off the mound toward third base after delivering a pitch, and he just doesn't get to first base. That might seem like a minor detail, but it comes up start after start -- and if it means one extra hit a game, that matters.

Let's assume that the Twins not only land the second wild card game but advance to the ALDS. Who do you want as the fourth starter in the playoff rotation? We can expect Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson are 1-2-3. But I don't see the Twins trying to go with just three starters, if only to protect Berrios, who has already hit a career high in innings pitched.

Do you go with Bartolo Colon? He's had his moments since joining the Twins, but he has a 5.33 ERA in 13 starts with Minnesota, and 16 homers in 72.2 innings is a really bad ratio.

Or Mejia? The hefty lefty (you knew that was coming, didn't you) a markedly better ERA than Colon but has a walk rate twice as high -- and his fielding should be a concern. A playoff team that doesn't make him get off the mound and make some plays isn't really trying.

Some questions don't have a wrong answer. This one doesn't have a right answer.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The big story out of the Twins-Yankees game Friday afternoon wasn't the outcome but the little girl who got hit by a line-drive foul.

The Yankees have not -- yet -- extended screens down the foul lines. I suspect this incident will change that.

The Twins took some grief when they put up screens the length of the dugouts. I'm glad they did that; the dugout seats in Target Field are very close to the playing field, and that increases the risk.

The ball Todd Frazier hit was timed at 106 mph. No kid, and darn few adults, could react fast enough to that.

---

Lost in translation:




Among the responses:







---

This tweet references the San Juan stadium where the Montreal Expos played some "home" games years ago and, I believe, where the Twins and Indians are supposed to play a pair of regular season games next April:


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Max Kepler and CC Sabathia

The Twins lost again to the Yankees Tuesday night. Didn't hurt them any in the "race" for the wild card slot, though, because the Angels lost also (to Cleveland).

Paul Molitor gave Max Kepler the start in right field against CC Satathia, who at 36 remains a useful starter. He's not the front-of-the-rotation workhorse he used to be -- he's still 25 innings shy of enough innings to qualify for the ERA title -- but there aren't a lot of teams who couldn't slot him into their rotation.

Sabathia hadn't allowed a homer all season to a left-handed hitter, even though this version of Yankee Stadium is just as short to right field as previous versions. Part of that is that he doesn't see many left-handed hitters -- just 103 have come to the plate all season against Sabathia. He's had four starts in which he never saw a lefty hitter. Sabathia may be older and diminished, but left-handed hitters still seem to come down with a fever when he's scheduled to start.

Kepler's struggles against southpaws this year have become rather notorious. Ehire Adrianza, of all people, has essentially taken a platoon outfield job because of Robbie Grossman's thumb injury and Kepler's ineffectiveness against same-side pitching.

But Molitor started Kepler anyway. And Kepler took Sabathia deep. It was not only Sabathia's first homer allowed to a lefty hitter, it was Kepler's first off a lefty pitcher.

Obviously it wasn't enough; the Twins didn't score another run off Sabathia or the Yankee bullpen. But it was just another sample of how you can't predict baseball.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The wild card years fly by

I may have mentioned here before one of my pet observations about how age affects how we perceive time. For a five-year old, a year is one-fifth of her existence; indeed, it feels like more, since she doesn't actively remember the first three or so. For a 60-year-old, a year is a much smaller piece of the pie.

This has a specific baseball-related (and Twins related) point. I became a baseball fan in 1969, which coincidentally was the first year of divisional play. The Twins were put in the American League West, and there they remained until baseball went to three divisions and added wild cards to the playoff mix.

The Twins in that alignment were placed in the AL Central, and there they have remained. That happened in 1994.

So the Twins were in the AL West for 25 years. They have now been in the AL Central 24 years. Next year they will have been in the Central for as long as they were in the West. And baseball will have been using wild cards in the postseason as long as it had just four teams in October. It doesn't seem possible.

This came to mind in large part because I was mulling over my continued disdain for the wild card. The idea that a team can be second (or now even third) best in its division and still win the championship does not sit well with me. It didn't 25 years ago, it doesn't today, it won't if I've still capable of contemplating such things 25 years from now.

Much as I would like the Twins to get into the tournament, I cannot make a case for them as a deserving champion.

I have, to be sure, the same problem with the 1987 team, and I have certainly had no problem living with that cognitive dissonance. I am always careful to identify the 1987 Twins as "World Series champions." They were that, but they were not the best team in the league, much less in both leagues, that year. 1991, that's a different story.

It occurred to me that the 2017 Twins, flawed as they are, still have the best record of the old West division teams. The Angels, the Athletics, the Mariners, the Rangers, the Royals, the White Sox -- they all have lesser records this year than the Twins. That doesn't mean much, really, with all the changes since 1993 -- interleague play, unbalanced schedules, an additional team in the AL, the Brewers and Astros trading places -- but it makes me feel a little better, a little more rooted.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

During my truncated biweekly appearance on KMSU Thursday, I volunteered the notion that Kyle Gibson was the key figure in the Twins push for the wild card.

He gave us reason to beleive that Sunday, both pro and con.

His first two innings were SOG -- Same Old Gibson. Four walks and four runs in the first inning, five runs -- including two homers -- in the first two innings. And then, four innings practically without blemish, the good Gibson of his previous five starts.

Gibson has had remarkable run support all year, and particularly of late. Five runs allowed in six innings is not a great start, but with 13 runs of support, it was good enough.

---

Last week the Twins designated Engelb Vielma for assignment. The San Francisco Giants claimed him on waivers.

Last winter, the Giants waived Ehire Adrianza, who was initially claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers, to tried to get him through waivers themselves only to see the Twins claim him. Adrianza has stuck all year, starting games at five different positions. He's been the gloveman I expected (easily the best defensive shortstop on the roster) and a more productive hitter than anticipated.

In a very real sense, the Twins traded Vielma for Adrianza, just about seven months apart. They;re rather similar players -- switch-hitters, shortstops, some speed, glove-first. Vielma has options left, and Adrianza does not, and Adrianza has more pop in his bat, but in the main, they're the same guy.

---

Adrianza has picked up a good bit of playing time in left field since Robbie Grossman's thumb injury in a platoon with Max Kepler, who has struggled at the plate against lefties. (Eddie Rosario shifts to right when Adrianza is in left.)

It's only 53 plate appearances, but Adrianza has slashed .298/.340/447 against southpaws. And he hasn't embarrassed himself in the outfield despite little previous experience out there. (There have been too few innings for the metrics to be definitive, but they show him as a very good defensive outfielder.)

Grossman, whose splits last year showed more power right handed, has been the opposite this year. He's slugging just .355 as a right-handed hitter, .412 from the left side -- but his on-base percentage as a right handed hitter is a stellar .406, markedly better than his still-useful .355 as a lefty.

I know there are those who want to see more Kennys Vargas as DH and less Grossman, but one long ball a week really doesn't make up for the all the extra outs Vargas would make.

Paul Molitor has this month largely limited his lineup juggling to the outfield corners and DH. I certainly didn't expect Adrianza to emerge as a viable outfielder, and I do believe that platooning Kepler now is detrimental to his future, but Molitor has gotten immediate benefits from this approach.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pic of the Week

Curtis Granderson cooperates Saturday with a pair of
selfie-seeking fans in Washington.

Curtis Granderson is fondly remembered in Mankato. He was a Mankato Masher in this city's first season with a team in the Northwoods League, and he's had a fine major league career with the Tigers, Yankees, Mets and now Dodgers.

And he is even more highly regarded for his off-the-field activities and persona. He isn't a Hall of Fame caliber player, but by all accounts he's a Hall of Fame caliber human being.

That said ... he's 36 and the numbers are trending down. Granderson came into Saturday with 90 plate appearances with the Dodgers; he's hitting .107 in that time.

One-oh-seven.

He has hit for some power; he has 23 homers on the season to flavor his .206 batting average. But time is undefeated, and the Grandy Man's career may well be nearing its end.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Good bye, Mientkiewicz

Doug Mientkiewicz's
teams in Fort Myers and
Chattanooga finished
first four times in five
seasons.
Doug Mientkiewicz, who has managed in the Twins system for five years at two different levels, was fired Friday. His was the most prominent firing of three in the farm system (the others being pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen and Larry Bennese, the trainer at Triple A Rochester).

Mientkiewicz, in an echo of his bitter comments in 2004 when the Twins moved him aside and then traded him to make way for Justin Morneau, reacted acidly to his dismissal. From a Star Tribune story:

“I’m out here working my rear end off, dealing with the remnants of the hurricane, and they call to tell me I’m fired. You think they will ever do something professional as an organization?”
OK, Mientkiewicz is in a stressful situation. He lives in the Florida Keys, and Irma did a number on pretty much everything there. And he has a rather impressive record as a minor league manager. And -- I can speak from experience here -- it's never fun being fired. But it happens to managers, at every level, a lot. And it's not going to do him any good to rip the guys who let him go.

Mientkiewicz interviewed for the big-league job when Ron Gardenhire was fired. He was my personal favorite for the position, but then-general manager Terry Ryan, perhaps with a push from above, picked Paul Molitor instead. Mientkiewicz reportedly was not even the runner-up. It may be worth noting that Mientkiewicz' name has not been connected with any managerial openings around baseball since.

Off what is visible from here, Mientkiewicz's firing makes little sense. He's developed players, and he's won. But much of the job of minor league manager -- major league manager too, for that matter -- is, like an iceberg, submerged and out of view. And Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, is correct in saying that the earlier in the offseason the firing, the better in terms of finding a new job.

I expect media criticism of Mientkiewicz' firing. It will come from the contingent of writers and talkers who can't or won't understand analytics. Mientkiewicz was a pretty reliable "good quote" 15 years ago as a player, and there are several guys with prominent platforms who harbor fond memories of those days yet. They've been itching for something to rip the new regime for. Mientkiewicz gives them an opportunity.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Contemplating Byron Buxton

Bryon Buxton brings his home run
home through a shower of bubble gum
Thursday night.
Another blown lead, another extra-inning game, another walk-off homer by a blossoming Twins outfielder.

Eddie Rosario on Wednesday, Byron Buxton on Thursday.

(We should, therefore, expect big things from Max Kepler tonight.)

Jeff Passan of Yahoo posted this piece on Buxton's emergence earlier on Thursday. Two noteworthy items in it, one trivial and one substantial. The trivial: Buxton can't beat his 30-year-old brother in a footrace. The substantial: how hitting coach James Rowson worked with Buxton to overcome his hitting difficulties.

I said here when Tom Brunansky (and Butch Davis) were fired from the coaching staff last November that Buxton and Miguel Sano's difficult 2016 season did in Bruno as hitting coach.

There were players Brunansky helped, with Brian Dozier being a prime example. But as I said 10 months ago, the Twins have to have Buxton as a cornerstone. And now he appears to be just that.

Buxton's greatest contribution, of course, is his defense. And this week the geniuses (no sarcasm intended) at Statcast rolled out a new defensive metric: Outs Above Average. Buxton tops that standard, with Kepler 13th in the majors and Rosario well down the list, behind even Robbie Grossman.

OAA is a metric I intend to keep an eye on.

So .. Twins win, Angels lose. Twins have a three-game lead for the final wild card spot with 16 games to go.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The big swing of Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario connects for his game-winning homer in
the 10th inning Wednesday night.

We've seen plenty of hitters swing, miss and lose their balance. I don't think I've ever before seen a player hit a ball 415 feet and stagger backwards after impact as Eddie Rosario did Wednesday night.

It was Rosario's 23rd homer of the season. He doesn't lead the Twins in homers -- Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano have more -- but it's amusing to remember that as he made his way through the system there was legitimate concern that he didn't have the power demanded of a regular corner outfielder.

Not an issue.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

That was quite the power display the Twins put on Tuesday night. Seven homers, one apiece in each of the first seven innings -- the first time, we are told, that's happened in a major league game.

Two of the homers came from Jason Castro. I had been looking at his numbers earlier in the day and thinking that he was a little light on the homers. I expected him to get into double digits this year. Now he's at nine with more than two weeks to go, so he's not far off the 11 he hit each of the last two years -- and he's got his best batting average and on-base percentage since his All-Star year, 2013.

---

A few weeks ago I posted about Amaurys Minier's floundering career. Cedar Rapids' season ended Monday night when Quad Cities eliminated the Kernels in the Midwest League playoffs.

On Tuesday morning, from a Baseball America scribe:




Message: Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

---

The Twins did indeed add Gabriel Moya to the 40-man roster and the bullpen Tuesday. To make room they designated shortstop Engelb Vielma for release or assignment.

The Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino called that a surprise on Twitter. I'm not sure why. There's always been a question about Vielma's bat, and he hit .206/.233/.260 in more than 300 plate appearances at Triple A.

He had Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza ahead of him and Nick Gordon on his heels -- plus some interesting shortstop prospects in at the A and Rookie levels.

Moya threw a scoreless ninth inning under essentially no pressure, so he got his feet wet.

Whether he'll see any leverage situtations is uncertain, My guess is not; Paul Molitor needed a month or so to start trusting Trevor Hildenberger, and we'll run out of time before Moya gets there. Even if he does earn a prominent role in the bullpen by season's end, Moya's ineligible for the postseason as he wasn't on the 40 before September.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins have four left-handed relievers on their active roster right now -- Taylor Rogers, Buddy Boshers, Nik Turley and Glen Perkins -- but Rogers is probably the only one who can reliably get outs.

Enter, if a tweet from one of his former pitching coaches is accurate, Gabriel Moya:




Moya is a 22-year-old Venezuelan the Twins got from the Arizona Diamondbacks for John Ryan Murphy back in July. His numbers in Double A (split between two teams) are astoundingly good: 0.77 ERA, 87 strikeouts in 58.1 innings.

The Twins have not announced his callup, much less the corresponding move to open a roster spot for him (the 40-man is full). But there is, or should be, an opportunity here for a second lefty, and Chattanooga's season is over (the Southern League being one of three minor leagues to cancel their championship series because of Hurricane Irma).

---

The Twins had a pretty good day Monday in their "pillow fight" (Aaron Gleeman's term) for a wild card berth, as the Royals, Mariners, Orioles and Rays all lost.

But the Twins have basically treaded water the past three weeks in a period in which they played nobody above .500. They really had an opportunity to seize control of this wild card race and didn't.

---

Cleveland's winning streak is now 19 games. The great Joe Posnanski supplied this breakdown of the Tribe's streak before Monday's 11-0 thrashing of the Detroit Tigers; the numbers now have to be even more astounding.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The matter of bullpen depth

The Cleveland Indians won their 18th in a row Sunday night. Only the 2002 Oakland Athletics have had a longer win streak in my lifetime, so this is pretty darn impressive.

The Indians now have the best record in the American League. And if anything, they've been unlucky this season; by the Pythagorean Theorum, they should have six more wins and six fewer losses.

One aspect that stood out to me as I watched them beat Baltimore Sunday night is their bullpen depth. Bullpen depth has been a chronic issue all season for the Twins; Paul Molitor seldom has more than three arms he trusts in key situations, and those identities have changed repeatedly.

Terry Francona has six relievers with at least 50 innings. The worst ERA of the group belongs to workhorse Bryan Shaw: 3.19. (This includes Andrew Miller, currently sidelined with a balky knee.)

The Twins have four relievers with at least 50 innings. The best of those ERAs is Taylor Rogers, and his 3.29 is worse than Shaw's.

On Saturday, Molitor tried to get through the eighth inning of a tied game without dipping into the Rogers-Trevor Hildenberger-Matt Belisle combo. Hildenberger and Belisle had pitched three straight days, and Rogers in two of the three. But Ryan Pressly, Buddy Boshers and Tyler Duffey didn't get any outs, and Rogers wound up making a brief appearance anyway -- and the Twins lost by three.

On Sunday, Francona protected a one-run lead in the late innings without using his three preferred setup men (Miller, Shaw and Dan Otero). The combo of Joe Smith, Tyler Olson and Nick Goody got five outs without allowing a baserunner.

Winning 18 in a row is never easy. But it's far more doable when the bullpen is stacked with guys who can get outs consistently than when half the pen is of mopup quality.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pic of the Week

Alex Gordon reaches for the ball on Jason Castro's
ninth-inning single Thursday. The play not made proved
critical in the Twins' three-run rally to win the game.

One percent.

That, according to Statcast, is how often Jason Castro's blooper to short left field on Thursday turns into a hit.

You have here two players -- left fielder Alex Gordon and shortstop Alcides Escobar -- who have won Gold Gloves at their respective positions. You have a blooper that is caught, literally, 99 percent of the time in the major leagues.

And the Royals couldn't get the out. And that failure allowed the Twins to win the game.

Kansas City will always have the 2016 World Series trophy to embrace, plus the memory of how close the 2015 team was to making it two in a row. The core of that team is almost certainly going to split apart this offseason.

This was one play in one game. But that core, as beloved and accomplished as it is, is in decline.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

This American League wild card scrum is starting to sort itself out a bit in the Twins favor. The Twins this morning are closer to the first wild card berth than the second (1.5 games behind the Yankees, 2 games ahead of the Angels).

I'd rather see the Twins in the first slot for three reasons:


  • the wild card game would be at Target Field;
  • they'd have more room for error;
  • it would be more likely that the Twins would make it and the Yankees miss. (Baseball is always better when the Yankees lose.)

Not that I would throw away the second slot. The wild card remains a reward for mediocrity, but it's embedded in the system.

---




Two weeks ago the Dodgers had a chance at a truly historic season. Their chance at the single-season wins record is now mathematically gone. They still have a 10-game lead on the division, they still have the best record in baseball, but the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners (116 wins) are safe.

Of course, the Cubs lost the World Series (to the White Sox, no less) and the Mariners didn't even get to the Series.

---

As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, my personal thoughts are on Fort Myers and the Twins complex there. That area is what I have experienced of Florida.




My wife and I have established a pattern of going to the Fort for a few days of spring training every other year. That would be next year.



Friday, September 8, 2017

Contempating Kyle Gibson

Do I believe in Kyle Gibson?

Not in his existence, but that he truly belongs in the starting rotation of a postseason team.

On Thursday Gibson made his seventh start since returning to the rotation after the trade of Jaime Garcia. He allowed two runs in seven innings; while he didn't get the decision, it was a quality start. His stat line for those seven starts is pretty good: 3.10 ERA in 40.2 innings.

A month ago I figured Gibson was slated to be nontendered this offseason (he has one more year of arbitration eligibility). Now I'm not so sure he should be discarded.

His numbers for the year are still ugly., even with his Augst-September improvement. His ERA is still well above 5 (5.19); his walk and strikeout rates remain subpar. But even with two demotions to Triple A Rochester, he's second on the team in starts and innings; unlike fellow members of the season-opening rotation Phil Hughes, Hector Santiago and Adalberto Mejia, Gibson's been able to take the ball.

He has long been a frustrating pitcher to watch. He has a quality two-seamer, and he chronically appears unwilling or unable to trust it for strikes. That has changed since the end of July. On Thursday he threw 95 pitches, 58 of them strikes. That is certainly a workable ratio.

One is tempted to speculate that watching Bartolo Colon, possessor of a much less imposing two-seamer, thrive by pounding the edges of the zone with that pitch has rubbed off on Gibson. Whatever the reason, he's surged. And the Twins certainly needed that, and certainly need it to continue.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Contemplating Eduardo Escobar

I haven't noticed Dick Bremer yakking about "superutility" players nearly as often since the Twins cut Danny Santana loose earlier this year. It was a reflexive reaction from the TV play-by-play guy whenever Santana got on the field, which was way too often.

Bremer doesn't have the same reaction to Eduardo Escobar, which is


  • a blessing, because as far as I'm concerned, Bremer uses the term far too loosely; and
  • too bad, because Escobar is a better fit for the term than Santana ever was.


What is the difference between a utility player and a superutility player? Well, what is the difference between Ehire Adrianza and Ben Zobrist? Playing time. Zobrist can hit (or at least he has a well-established track record of hitting; he's not been nearly as productive this season); his managers -- largely Joe Maddon -- make a point of getting him in the lineup on a regular basis even if not at the same position every day.

Zobrist this year has started at three different positions (second base, left field, right field) nd picked up a few innings at two others (first base and shortstop). Adrianaza has started games at five different positions (short, third, second, left and first). But Zobrist has more than 400 plate appearances, Adrianza just cracked 150 on Wednesday.

Utility players are versatile. Superutility guys are regulars without a set position. Superutility guys hit well enough to get lots of at-bats in the top half of the lineup, and they field well enough to get some of their playing time at an up-the-middle position. But they don't field so well that the manager is going to just make him the every day centerfielder or shortstop.

Which brings us to Escobar. "Eddie the Stick," as the Star Tribune's LaVelle Neal often calls him on Twitter, hit cleanup Wednesday (and drove in three runs). He has compiled 400-plus plate appearances so far, getting starts at third base, shortstop, second base and even designated hitter, has set career high for homers and RBIs and is nearing a career high in runs scored.

Escobar is playing third a lot right now because Miguel Sano is sidelined, but Paul Molitor was finding ways to get him into the lineup frequently before that, often against lefties (the switch-hitter is hitting much better from the right side.) The only lineup slot he hasn't started in at least once is leadoff.

This is Escobar's third season of 400-plus plate appearances for the Twins; he has another with 377. That's not really superutility usage. But it's close.